In this article Lynnda M. Nelson Looks at how to design and implement an organizational resilience strategic initiative, innovating your organization for today and for the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified the importance of organizational resilience as a strategic initiative that should be supported throughout all systems, people, policies, and procedures.
Identifying and acknowledging opportunities to focus on resilience in your environment is a leadership activity, designed to improve efficiencies and provide a basis for strategic planning initiatives. It is with these disciplines that organizations can deliver on their mission, vision, and values while having flexibility and foresight to prepare for the future.
What is the definition of organizational resilience?
There are varying definitions for organizational resilience (OR) – many of them are incident based or focused heavily on ‘reacting’ to something ‘bad’ that happens. Definitions also tend to be very risk-discipline based as well.
This definition, from ISO 22316, is better in my opinion:
Organizational resilience is ‘The ability of an organization to absorb and adapt in a changing environment to enable it to deliver its objectives and to survive and prosper.’
This definition was intended to describe and delineate the ideals of organizational change regardless of the discipline or industry and to be more relevant than a sense of ‘bouncing back’ from times of distress. Note the dual focus on absorbing and adapting in a changing environment to deliver its objectives to not just survive but to also prosper.
The definition seeks to ensure that there is an understanding that organizational resilience is more than managing impacts and during times of uncertainty, but also about prospering during a business-as-usual environment.
Resilience as a strategy to survive change
2020 has been referred to as ‘The Year of Change’. From what research has shown, that change carried over into 2021 and with the rampant developments of the past two years, 2022 has seen an even greater transformation and emergence of new technologies and innovation than ever before. What is apparent is that we all can and will live and prosper during times of constant change.
A study published by Nursing Management Magazine (Brown & Abuatiq) in February 2020 explored the concept of resilience of the nursing workforce and how resilience training for nurses can help protect against the negative effects of stress caused by frequent and ongoing change.
The study found that frequent changes in an organization could lead to resistance or fatigue:
- Change resistance: when people demonstrate intentional and disruptive behavior meant to sabotage change.
- Change fatigue: when people become disengaged and apathetic about the changes; not openly expressing their discontent.
Organizational leaders need to understand how times of constant change can impact their people and to intentionally build strategies to mitigate the impact and increase resilience. Strengthening our workforce is an important strategy to reduce vulnerability and improve the overall workplace climate, improving the environment for a greater output.
Building resilience must be intentional
Organizational resilience is a strategic initiative and enhancing resilience should be a strategic goal. The organization's leaders must be committed to a sustained focus on organizational resilience and intentionally implement strategies to increase its resilience through a series of feedback mechanisms including a focus on the external environment, leadership, management practices, work climate, motivation, and individual and organizational performance (Burke & Litwin, 1992). Top management is responsible for the governance and accountability of the organization's resilience capability while feedback is instrumental throughout the entire business systems providing critical information to analyze, diagnose, and even predict the effects of change.
Building resilience requires a coordinated approach
There is no single strategy or solution to make an organization resilient. Building a more resilient organization requires a coordinated approach that includes managing change, managing risk, building diversity, breaking down silos, and being more agile and adaptive.
Resilience frameworks and models
ICOR’s resilience frameworks and models provide understanding on the different strategies (OR Model), capabilities (OR Capability Assessment), and competencies (OR Competency Model) are required to build a more resilient organization. We will focus on the strategies to increase resilience as documented in ICOR’s Organizational Resilience Model:
The ICOR Organizational Resilience Model
The Organizational Resilience Model model is comprised of three Dimensions, nine Strategies, and six sets of Behaviors. The Behaviors that enable an organization to enhance its resilience were the focus on a seven-part series of both webinars and blogs published by ICOR in January – July 2022. These behaviors underpin an organization’s resilience strategy and demonstrate how it interacts with itself and with others.
Each organization is unique. The way that organizational resilience is implemented is also unique, however, studies have identified common attributes demonstrated by organizations that have survived and prospered during times of uncertainty and change.
This article discusses the Dimensions and Strategies identified in the OR Model, identifies strategies that can be implemented to build a more resilient organization, and the attributes that result from implementing these strategies.
Dimension one: Leadership and Strategy
Organizational resilience is enhanced when the organization intentionally implements strategies to increase its resilience. The behavior of its leadership is a key contributor to how an organization implements its organizational resilience strategies and is rooted in its understanding of itself and its relationship with others.
Capability one: Shared Vision and Clarity of Purpose
The organization has a clearly articulated and understood purpose, vision, and values which provides clarity to decision-making and strategic direction.
- More resilient organizations know who they are and what they stand for.
- A shared purpose is the ‘glue’ that holds the organization together.
Strategy: Strengthen identity
People long to belong, and they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Organizations that create a strong identity that meets employees’ needs for affiliation, social cohesion, purpose, and meaning will be more resilient than those that don’t.
Take a stance on purpose: Purpose helps attract people to join an organization, employee retention and helps them to thrive. Employees nowadays know who they are and what they stand for. The organization’s vision, purpose, and core values provide coherence and clarity in their decision to work for a company. Other factors include corporate social responsibility and the perception that companies have externally throughout the connected world.
In the absence of a strict and controlling hierarchy, a purpose becomes the ‘North Star’, reducing the need to constantly seek direction from superiors. By bringing a purpose statement to life and connecting the dots through storytelling and meaningful narratives, employees are more likely to commit to the organization’s strategy and execution.
When an organization has a strong identity, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization’s behavior is aligned with a shared vision and purpose.
- The organization’s people clearly understand its vision, purpose and core values and their contribution.
- There exists a collective identity which unites all employees around the organization’s overarching purpose.
- Employees feel their work is personally meaningful and valued and contributes to the organization’s success.
- Individual goals and objectives are in alignment with those of the organization.
- The organization recognizes the need to reflect on, and if necessary, revise the organization’s purpose, vision, and core values in response to external and internal changes.
Capability two: An Understanding of Context and Relationships
A comprehensive understanding of itself and its partners enables organizational leaders to think beyond current activities, strategy, and organizational boundaries, and understand and prioritize the needs of customers.
- More resilient organizations embed themselves in external networks and position employees to take on the role of ‘active sensors’, always detecting, scanning, and adapting to fluctuating customer needs.
- In unpredictable times, organizational survival depends on understanding a broader external environment where purpose and goals are targeted to customer missions which become the focus around which to rally leadership and teams.
Strategy: Strengthen relationships
More resilient organizations understand the importance of collaborating and strengthening relationships with relevant interested parties to support the delivery of the organization’s purpose and vision.
Sharpen your value agenda: Articulate where value is created, what sets the company apart from the pack, and what might propel its success in the future. An understanding of the organization’s context and relationships allows it to make more effective strategic decisions about priorities for resilience.
Adopt an ecosystem view: Value is created through networks where partners share information and skills; where communities/networks of businesses create value together.
When an organization has strong and healthy relationships, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization maintains strong relationships with its interested parties and fosters cooperation and collaboration at all levels.
- The organization seeks partnerships – even outside its traditional boundaries - when needed to develop and deliver on its strategy and support the achievement of its purpose and objectives.
- The organization ensures employees feel connected to others at work and provides opportunities for employees to get to know one another and to develop interpersonal relationships across the organization.
- The organization ensures that investments in resilience activities are appropriate to the organization’s internal and external context.
- The organization monitors and evaluates the organization's context, including interdependencies, political, regulatory environment, and competitor activities under changing circumstances.
Capability three: Effective Leaders and Governance
The organization’s leaders are effective, trusted, respected, and act with integrity. They promote unity and an understanding of the organization's purpose.
- When leaders exist at all levels of the organization and they foster an environment for high-performing teams, the organization performs at a higher level.
- Leadership is responsible for demonstrating governance and accountability of the organization’s resilience capability.
Strategy: Strengthen leaders
More resilient organizations seek leaders who have a diverse set of skills, leadership styles, knowledge, and experience to achieve organizational objectives. Leaders who can adapt to changing circumstances and tailor their management style to meet the needs of the situation at hand are more resilient in the face of adversity, therefore more likely to have success in challenging times.
Develop your leaders: the organization’s leaders develop and encourage others to lead under a range of conditions and circumstances, including during periods of uncertainty and disruption.
Distribute your leaders: Leadership is distributed throughout the organization and leaders at all levels of the organization are empowered to make decisions that protect and enhance the resilience of the organization. When an organization has effective leaders and governance, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization develops leaders to improve their emotional intelligence and how they adapt to changing circumstances.
- Leaders encourage and incorporate a broad set of ideas and input, foster trust, collaboration, and healthy conflict to build bonds, and treat employees fairly when allocating resources and making decisions.
- The organization encourages its employees to have open lines of communication, to give and receive feedback in the workplace, to listen closely to feedback, and do their best to implement necessary changes.
- Employees can directly interact with their managers creating a strong link between employees and leaders.
- Leaders of the organization demonstrate responsibility for the governance and accountability of its resilience capability.
Dimension two: Culture and Organizational Behavior
Organizational resilience is increased when there is an intentional effort to ensure a healthy culture throughout the organization. A healthy culture is one that is supportive of organizational resilience and demonstrates a commitment to, and existence of, shared beliefs and values, positive attitudes, and behavior.
Capability one: Healthy Culture
The behavior of an organization’s leadership is a key contributor to how an organization implements its organizational resilience strategies. A healthy organizational culture also serves as a control mechanism for shaping behavior.
- Leadership is responsible for creating a culture that fosters creativity and innovation and where leaders are effective, trusted, respected, and who act with integrity.
- Nurture and retain talent by fostering an inclusive employee experience, rewarding, and recognizing performance to increase engagement, and deploying wellness and mentoring programs.
Strategy: Improve culture
Use culture as your ‘secret sauce’. The main ingredients are specific, observable behaviors that employees at all levels adhere to. The organization’s culture provides a sense of identity to its people. It promotes a sense of commitment and reinforces the values of the organization.
Engage your people at all levels: Leverage your culture as a tool to build and strengthen trust. Embrace change to be more flexible and adaptable.
Leaders should encourage inclusive behaviors such as mentorship, impartial treatment, advocacy, team building, encouragement in decision-making, empowerment and support, genuine concern, mutual respect, and integration of diverse ideas.
When an organization has effective leaders and governance, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization builds a culture of trust and growth by providing encouragement and motivation.
- The organization’s employees value and embrace diversity.
- The organization fosters creativity and innovative ideas to achieve its objectives and encourages its people to communicate these ideas both vertically and horizontally in the organization.
- Leadership ensures that employees are embraced and empowered to make meaningful contributions.
- Leadership demonstrates appreciation for employees’ non-work demands, responsibilities, and interest.
- The organization engages its people at all levels to promote the organization’s values.
Capability two: Shared Information and Knowledge
Knowledge is widely shared where appropriate and applied. Learning from experience and learning from others is encouraged.
- Knowledge and information are recognized as a critical resource of the organization. The organization values information, knowledge, and learning.
- Knowledge and information are created, retained, and applied through established systems and processes. It is accessible, understandable, and adequate to support the organization's objectives.
Strategy: Increase information sharing and learning
More resilient organizations establish systems so that information sharing is intentional and results in increased cooperation and collaboration. Learning is drawn from all available sources.
Foster learning, creativity, and innovation: Value error-reporting and learning over blame. Encourage your people to communicate their ideas both vertically and horizontally in the organization. Share knowledge and information in a timely manner to enable effective decision-making.
Accelerate learning as an organization: Promote a mindset of continuous learning that encourages and supports people to adapt and reinvent themselves to meet shifting needs.
When an organization shares information and knowledge, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization values information, knowledge, and learning. It is accessible, understandable, and adequate to support the organization’s objectives.
- Knowledge and information is created, retained, and applied through established systems and processes.
- The organization provides opportunities for learning and professional development and creates a positive work environment. It is committed to investing in its people.
- The organization understands how work occurs ensuring that the links between work, place, and workers are understood.
- Learning is drawn from all available sources, uses what it has, and learns from experience and from others.
- The organization encourages the creation and sharing of lessons learned about success and failure and promotes the adoption of better practice.
Capability three: Continual Improvement and Evaluation
The organization encourages and creates a culture of continual improvement and evaluation across all personnel and commits to validate and continually improve its organizational resilience activities and capabilities.
- Organizational resilience is improved when organizations continually monitor their performance against pre-determined criteria to learn and improve from experience and take advantage of opportunities.
- A culture of continual improvement across all employees and systems ensures that the organizational objectives, strategies, and procedures are kept relevant and appropriate while supporting the changing needs of the organization.
Strategy: Strengthen data collection
Data should be used to continually empower decisions and the value agenda. More resilient organizations use predictive analytics and performance management to operate more agilely. The organization’s people should also analyze their performance.
Build data-rich systems for managing change, continual improvement, and innovation: Design systems to anticipate, plan, and respond to changing circumstances. Management uses on-going monitoring reports to track trends in the data used to evaluate organizational resilience.
Continuous assessment, knowledge-building, learning, improvement, and innovation should be embedded in the organization’s systems.
When an organization shares and encourages a culture of continual improvement, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- Top management determines objectives for organizational resilience and develops measurement criteria to be used to monitor and evaluate the status of the organization resilience attributes and indicators.
- Management routinely reviews the suitability, availability, and allocation of resources, considering the impact of any changes in the organization and its context.
- Top management uses on-going monitoring reports to track trends in the data used to evaluate organizational resilience.
- Management uses the output of the reporting process and any identified gaps in its organizational resilience capabilities to develop action plans to close those gaps and enhance its resilience.
- Opportunities for improvement are identified and actions implemented to achieve the intended outcomes.
- Technology tools such as artificial intelligence, intelligent automation, machine learning – are used to manage change and inform decisions.
Dimension three: Preparedness and Managing Risk
Organizational resilience is enhanced when the organization intentionally manages risk and prepares for the unexpected. The alignment and collaboration of risk-based systems is fundamental to enhancing organizational resilience.
Capability one: Available Resources
The organization develops and allocates resources, such as people, premises, technology, finance, and information, to address vulnerabilities, providing the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Resources are adequate and available when needed to ensure that the organization remains productive and minimizes risk to operations.
- The organization manages its resources in an agile manner ensuring that the right people are on the right teams at the right time.
Strategy: Build for adequate and available resources
Management is responsible for ensuring that the resources it requires are available, adequate, assigned, and competent.
Resources are available, assigned, and competent: The organization assigns roles, responsibilities, and authorities for enhancing organizational resilience - ensuring those assigned are competent, can work in an interdisciplinary team, and collaborate and communicate effectively.
The organization is responsible for developing the ability to identify and respond to change in a flexible manner; including modifying and redeploying capabilities, arrangements, structures, activities, and behaviors to adjust to new conditions.
When an organization ensures that its resources are available, assigned, and competent, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization uses diversification, replication, and redundancy to avoid single points of failure and to respond to incidents and change.
- The organization has a process to staff new projects based on the project’s requirements. The teams can be flexibly redistributed to new projects when needed.
- All employees are provided with equal access to the information, opportunities, and relationships that they need to be successful.
- The organization has the ability to apply existing resources to new purposes.
- The organization routinely reviews the suitability, availability, and allocation of resources, taking account of the impact of any changes in the organization and its context.
- Leadership ensures that its resources are focused on initiatives with the best potential to increase the organization’s value and values.
Capability two: Manages Change
The organization implements systems to anticipate, plan, and respond to changing circumstances.
- More resilient organizations demonstrate a commitment to managing change using an agile change management process throughout the organization and including all personnel.
- The organization needs to have the capability to consistently deliver on its commitments under changing circumstances and adapts its operations accordingly.
Strategy: Build for speed and agility
Operating models need to be fast, nimble, and frictionless to create ways of working that foster agility and simplicity. They need to enable a network of empowered, dynamic teams to find pockets of value, including at the organization’s ‘edges’ where employees are closest to customers.
Structure for high performance and managing change: Adopt models that are designed, nurtured, and grown around people and activities. Flatten your structure as much as possible. Design a workplace that is both flexible and productive. Design networks of local cross-functional teams with clear, accountable roles.
The organization must be aware of situations that are likely to influence change. This capability requires environmental scanning and monitoring. It must have a bias to action: valuing speed - not risk minimization - over perfection.
When an organization builds for speed and agility, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization is aware of circumstances that are likely to influence change and demonstrates the ability to anticipate and manage change.
- The organization is able to adapt itself when needed and without significant impact to the delivery of its products and services.
- The organization ensures that the causes of change resistance amongst those affected are acknowledged and actively managed through a strong change narrative and effective engagement.
- The organization understands how the structure and design of the organization impacts its agility.
- The organization’s structure and design allows its people to collaborate and communicate both horizontally and vertically throughout the organization.
- The organization is designed to have shorter chains of command / lines of authority allowing for more delegation and empowerment and operating in as flat a structure as possible.
- The organization’s structure and design allows those responsible for responding to and managing an incident to switch from one design to another if needed in order to work in a more agile and flexible manner.
Capability three: Manages Risk
The organization anticipates and responds to threats and opportunities, arising from sudden or gradual changes in its internal and external context.
- The organization implements systems to anticipate, plan, and respond to changing circumstances.
- The organization needs to have the capability to consistently deliver on its commitments under changing circumstances and to adapt its operations accordingly.
Strategy: Implement a systems-approach to managing risk
The organization should have a coordinated approach to increasing preparedness and managing risk that ensures the alignment of systems and the elimination of silos that may create barriers among functions.
Manages risk: Top management should ensure the organization has the capability for designing and developing systems to increase preparedness and manage risk.
Organizational resilience is enhanced when the organization intentionally manages risk and prepares for the unexpected. The alignment and collaboration of its systems is essential.
When an organization implements a system-approach to managing risks, it demonstrates the following attributes:
- The organization ensures that its methods of managing risk are robust and effective and respond to change and uncertainty.
- The organization identifies and implements management systems that contribute to the organization's resilience and manages the impact of risk on its objectives across those systems.
- The is a coherent approach between these systems to ensure adequate communication, coordination, and cooperation.
- The systems are coordinated so that they individually and collectively contribute to the organization’s purpose and the protection of what it values.
- Structures, roles, and responsibilities for the rapid gathering, collation, sharing and use of data and information are defined.
- Leadership regularly assesses how each system contributes to the overall resilience of the organization and addresses weaknesses where these are found.
- The organization empowers its people to identify and communicate threats and opportunities and to take action that will benefit the organization.
When building organizational resilience strategies, consider your:
- People: Recruit / build flexible and dynamic teams. Seek talent that is creative, collaborative, and curious. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit will thrive in environments that are ever-changing and learn to adapt.
- Structure: A framework for informed decisions. Remove layers of complexity that slow down the business and empower employees, at all levels, to make informed decisions.
- Processes: Establish scalable systems to drive visibility and information-sharing. Put core processes in place that support the free flow of information, collaboration, and accountability for quick decision making. This will establish scalable systems that promote transparency from top to bottom, and as your business changes, so should your processes. (These systems should also promote teamwork and learning and development.) (CIO Magazine).
Learn more by viewing ICOR's webinar Identifying and Implementing Strategies to Increase Resilience on Youtube.
Lynnda M. Nelson is a Founder and the President of The International Consortium for Organizational Resilience (ICOR). She manages the day to day operations of ICOR’s education and credentialing programs.
As a member of the US delegation to the ISO TC 292 and TC 268 Series of Standards, Lynnda is an expert on international standards for business continuity management systems, crisis management and communications, organizational resilience, and community resilience.
She is a frequent speaker on the subject of organizational and community resilience and the capabilities that support building more resilient organizations and communities. She conducts a monthly webinar, writes regularly in the ICORrespondence Newsletter, and shares in podcasts. She can be contacted at Lynnda@theicor.org.
The International Consortium for Organizational Resilience (ICOR) provides education to individuals on how to build more resilient organizations and communities and credentials individuals with the competence to lead and manage risk throughout the organization. The organization participates globally in instructing individuals, organizations, and communities to become more resilient. For more information about ICOR, credentialing or membership opportunities, visit www.build-resilience.org
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